The decision to draft Sean Taylor with the fifth overall pick last April was made after weeks of meticulous preparation. The choice paid big dividends last season, with Taylor making a solid impact on the Redskins' defense. He was second on the team with four interceptions and logged 89 tackles and two forced fumbles.
By season's end, it was apparent that Taylor was a budding playmaker who could be an impact player in the Redskins' secondary for years to come.
Whether it's a game-changing interception or a crushing tackle, making big plays is what Taylor looks to do every time he steps on the field. And he relies on his instincts to accomplish that.
"The faster you recognize a play, the faster you can get a jump on it," Taylor said during the regular season last year. "That's how great plays happen. When I'm just playing off my instincts, and seeing how a play happens before it actually happens, it helps my game."
Taylor's talent was on display in Week 15 when the Redskins topped the San Francisco 49ers 26-16 at Monster Park. In the first quarter, 49ers' quarterback Ken Dorsey, a former teammate of Taylor's at the University of Miami two years ago, fired a pass downfield intended for wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
In stepped Taylor to intercept the pass.
From the Redskins' 16-yard line, Taylor weaved his way up-field 30 yards before running into a mob of 49ers. What ensued provided Redskins fans with a glimpse of how fun it can be to watch a playmaker of Taylor's caliber.
The 21-year-old kept his legs moving against the San Francisco tacklers to gain a few extra yards. Then, as he was falling to the ground, Taylor tried to lateral the ball to linebacker Lemar Marshall. Though a risky play, Marshall managed to grab the pass and scamper 54 yards for a touchdown in what appeared to be a dazzling scoring play.
Unfortunately for the defense, Taylor's handoff was ruled an illegal forward pass and the touchdown was negated. Still, the play demonstrated Taylor's ability to intercept a pass, find space in the open field and think quickly when it comes to finding a way to get into the end zone.
Those qualities in Taylor were all recognized by head coach Joe Gibbs and assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams before the Redskins drafted him.
Recall Gibbs' quote on draft day: "I think his athletic ability--the fact that he can cover the field back there--really gives you a lot of freedom up front."
Taylor's talent was evident the first time he put on a Redskins uniform. The rookie intercepted two passes in the Redskins' pre-season opener against the Denver Broncos on Aug. 9. The second interception came on a screen pass with Denver backed up deep in its own territory. Taylor read the play, stepped in front of the pass and scooted into the end zone for a touchdown.
That game was only the start of a phenomenal preseason in which Taylor recorded another interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Linebacker LaVar Arrington, no stranger to making big plays, liked what he saw from Taylor and said, "He'll continue to get better and he'll be someone to be reckoned with."
Taylor has proven Arrington right. After coming off the bench in the first two games, Taylor made his first career NFL start in Redskins' 21-18 loss to Dallas on Monday Night Football in Week 3. He was assured a great deal of playing time when fellow safeties Matt Bowen and Andre Lott suffered season-ending injuries.
As the season went on, Taylor admitted that he became more comfortable in Williams's scheme.
"I'm progressing," he said at midseason. "That's usually what happens when you play regularly. Slowly but surely, you work yourself into a groove."
The 6-3, 230-pounder had his breakout game in Washington's 13-10 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 6. He registered his first NFL sack against the Bears' Jonathan Quinn and his first NFL interception late in the fourth quarter helped seal the Redskins' victory.
And then there are the big hits. Taylor established an intimidating presence in the Redskins' secondary. At various times last season, Taylor leveled hard tackles against the likes of Philaelphia's Terrell Owens and Dallas's Keyshawn Johnson.
"We want wide receivers to understand what it is to catch the ball inside the numbers," Williams said. "This is a territorial game and if you want part of that territory, you have to be ready to pay the price sometimes. And our secondary is starting to do those types of things."
While the rookie has certainly impressed, Taylor has incurred some personal foul penalties. He was also flagged for taunting against the 49ers after he recovered an onsides kick late in the game. And in the Week 16 game against Dallas, Taylor was part of the coverage that allowed a game-winning 39-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds.
Rookie mistakes on the field are to be expected, however, and Taylor is no exception. As he gains NFL experience and becomes more disciplined as a player, the mistakes will cease. And Taylor will continue to make headlines for plays such as his interception of Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 10 and his tip of a pass that led to a Shawn Springs interception against Philadelphia in Week 14.